Few industries were unaffected by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus COVID-19. Perhaps no industry has faced more adversity and greater challenges during the pandemic than the restaurant business. Many restaurants remain closed due to restrictions on indoor dining, while millions more are only allowed to serve patrons willing to eat outdoors or take their food to go.
In anticipation of the challenges posed by reopening restaurants, the National Restaurant Association® aimed to provide restaurant operators with information about what to expect as officials relaxed restrictions on in-person dining. That information also was designed to let diners know what to expect as they considered returning to in-person dining at their favorite eateries.
The National Restaurant Association® notes that the Food and Drug Administration Food Code has served as a basis for safe food handling for decades, and restaurants continue to adhere to that code. The protocols outlined in the code include guidelines related to sanitation and personal hygiene, which remain highly effective means to combating the spread of COVID-19.
In addition to advising restaurants to continue adhering to the FDA Food Code, the National Restaurant Association® has provided a detailed and lengthy list of recommendations to restaurant owners designed to make their facilities as safe as possible and ease any concerns customers may have about returning to their facilities. The following are a handful of those suggestions, and the full list can be downloaded at www.restaurant.org.
• Install sneeze guards around salad bars and buffets. Many local/state governments continue to forbid restaurants from offering salad bars and buffets. But in areas where such offerings are allowed, sneeze guards must be in place to prevent the spread of the virus through respiratory droplets.
• Provide food handler training to refresh employees. The National Restaurant Association® advises restaurants to refresh employees about proper food handling by providing fresh training to all employees.
• Sanitize the entire facility. Restaurants reopening their facilities to customers for the first time in months have been advised to thoroughly detail-clean and sanitize their entire facilities. High-contact areas that would be touched by both employees and customers are particular points of emphasis, but even seldom-touched surfaces must be thoroughly and routinely cleaned.
• Ensure ventilation systems are operating properly. The National Restaurant Association® advised restaurants to ensure ventilation systems were operating properly, but also advised restaurants to increase circulation of outdoor air as much as possible by opening windows and doors.
• Use contactless payment options as much as possible. Contactless payments decrease the need for hand-to-hand contact, which can help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
• Update floor plans. Local/state officials that have allowed restaurants to welcome in-person diners have mandated that seating arrangements be redesigned to ensure at least six feet of separation between table setups.
• Provide physical guides. The National Restaurant Association® has advised restaurant owners to provide physical guides, including tape on floors and/or sidewalks, to increase the likelihood that customers continue to follow social distancing guidelines when patronizing restaurants.
• Require waitstaff to wear masks. The National Restaurant Association® suggests restaurant owners should require waitstaff to wear face coverings even in areas where state/local officials have not made that mandatory. Doing so may ease customers' concerns and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that face coverings can help to slow the spread of the virus dramatically.
Restaurants have reopened in many areas, and diners should know that many of their favorite eateries are going to great lengths to ensure their facilities are safe places to enjoy delicious meals.